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Leon Thomas: Full Circle

Craig Jolley By

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One of the many promising vocalists who followed Joe Williams in the 1960's Count Basie band (Bill Henderson, O. C. Smith, Irene Reid, and Richard Boone were others.), Leon Thomas more than lived up to his promise. He is most noted for his yodeling (He substituted it for scat and gave it deeper meaning than scat.), but he was rock solid blues at bottom. His music referenced the social upheaval of the 1960's -70's, but because of his artistry and spirituality his records survive as much more than documentation of an era. He occasionally performed and recorded in the 1980’s – 90’s. Thomas died in 1999 after years of drug problems. He is starting to be recognized as one of the premier singers of the time. This 1973 reissue should help.

Full Circle was conceived as a commercial session. It is not a sell out. The best funk session players of the time were brought in to back Thomas, particularly Richard Davis who gives the music a strong sense of forward momentum. Thomas mostly sings better pop tunes of the time, tunes with energy and personality. He puts his own stamp on them, often lifting them to the next level with his authority. Pianist Neal Creque (who likely served as musical director) and Thomas also wrote three tunes. A string section (The uncredited arranger is probably Creque.) plays fills and riffs on four numbers. The strings are rhythmically oriented and actually enhance the music. (They are left off the alternate takes, leaving them with a flatter feel.)

"Sweet Little Angel," an old-time B.B. King blues with updates, summarizes the CD. Jimmy Owens (trumpet) and Pee Wee Ellis (soprano) bring in their energy on “Just in Time to See the Sun.” “It's My Life I'm Fighting For” is not much of a tune. Even so Thomas and the band generate a strong feel, and the listener gets the meaning without noticing the lyrics. There is a long open section in which the rhythm expands—Thomas yodels over it for a while.

Joe Scott's "Never Let Me Go" is a throwback to 1950's pop that also works. Creque's piano triplets somehow don't sound tired. Thomas can't quite overcome "Got to be There" (the only weak cut) with its embarrassingly trite lyrics and music. The lame back-up vocal chorus drags it track down even further.

"Balance of Life" recalls Thomas' best-known tune "The Creator Has a Master Plan" with its philosophical/metaphysical references and another extended open section. Thomas treats "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" as written, but at faster tempo and over a more evolved rhythmic backdrop, both of which work better than the original. Jimmy Owens contributes some telling solo and obbligato.

Track Listing: Sweet Little Angel; Just in Time to See the Sun; It's My Life I'm Fighting for; Never Let Me Go; I Wanna Be Where You Are; Got to Be There; Balance of Life; You Are the Sunshine of My Life; What Are We Gonna Do?; Sweet Little Angel (alternate); Just in Time to See the Sun (alternate); It's My Life I'm Fighting for (alternate); I Wanna Be Where You Are(alternate); You Are the Sunshine of My Life(alternate) .

Personnel: Leon Thomas- vocals, whistling, maracas; Neil Creque - piano; Richard Davis - electric bass; Joe Beck, Lloyd Davis - guitar; Jimmy Owens - trumpet, flugelhorn; Pee Wee Ellis - soprano; Joe Farrell - tenor, flute; Bernard Purdie - drums; Herbie Lovelle, Richard Landrum, Sonny Morgan - percussion; Leo Kahn, Gene Orloff, Joe Malignaggi, Raoul Poliakin, Emmanuel Green, David Nadien -violin; Richard Dickler, Carl Fleisig, - viola; Anthony Sophos, Alan Shulman - cello; vocal chorus on one tune.

Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: RCA Victor | Style: Vocal


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